Part 20: Home and away

Interalia walked from the main gate to the keep. It had stopped raining and the Great Outdoors looked wet and muddy. Though she knew it was time to get going again, today didn’t seem to be the day for it. As she entered the keep, she saw Blue Girl, who pointed at her and came towards her. Interalia waited.

“Hullo Blue! Did you and your mate have a suitably exciting night?”

Mareva frowned. “Why do you ask?”

“Oh, it’s the polite thing to ask among Humans. Personally, I think it’s a bit intimate, but we should all do our best to fit in, shouldn’t we?”

Mareva smirked. “Miss Interalia, I have spent most of my working life being the new girl in one place or another. I can smell that sort of joke before you have even thought of them. I am too tired now to make a proper response. Anyway, Bannog wants to talk to you. I do not want to talk to you, but do not take it personally. If I do not go to bed now, I will fall over and sleep in the hallway.”

Interalia chuckled, waved and walked to the winding stairs up. Blue Girl wasn’t stupid. That’s the thing about lies. You had to know how to tell them. Delivery was only part of it, and the best lies were those that you didn’t tell at all. You just gently nudged the sucker, so that they would tell it to themselves, like she’d done so well with…

“You!”

Interalia jumped out of her skin, and turned round. Silhouetted in the doorway stood the small form of Lenna. Her eyes were not glowing red, but they should have been. her hands were by her side, fingers spread out. Interalia opened her mouth to speak, but Lenna interrupted her.

“You come into my house, trying to steal my dresses. Then, you force your company on us, all the way here, because we can’t trust you not to empty the place if we leave you. Then, you corrupt my children’s minds with your filthy stories about depraved sex. And now, you rob my only son of his innocence?” Lenna looked at Interalia, her jaw set. “Finally, you’ve gone too far. I’ll not let you get away with any more. It’s a good thing that you’re not standing near anything that’ll burn.”

Interalia raised her hands. “Lenna… nothing happened alright?”

“You call that nothing? Oh, I’m sure Nix will love to hear that. Don’t you think you’ve hurt him enough already?”

Interalia took a deep breath, and readied herself for a sprint. Just as she wanted to dash off, a long sword hit the wall next to her.

“Oh no, you don’t,” said Trixie. She turned to Lenna. “Get her Mum. I’ll help you carry what’s left to the moat.”

Interalia pressed her back to the wall, screwed her eyes shut, and shouted.

“I didn’t sleep with Nix!”

For a few tense heartbeats, nothing happened. Interalia carefully opened one eye, to see Lenna standing there, smiling at her.

“Why not? He’s a nice boy. Doesn’t often take girlfriends home, what with all his engineering work.”

Trixie laughed. “Oh come on. You didn’t really think we’d fry you right in the middle of the castle, did you?”

Interalia stared at Trixie. She took a deep breath.

“Of… course not.”

Lenna blinked, and her mouth fell open.

“Oh my.” She put her hand on her chest. “Oh my, you did, didn’t you?” Lenna stepped forward, and put her hands on Interalia’s shoulders. “Oh girl. I’m so sorry. And after all you did for us, too,” She looked into Interalia’s eyes. “I’m really, really sorry. I’d play this kind of joke on Nix or Trixie, so I thought… Never mind.”

Lenna pulled Interalia to her. “I’d never hurt you. Never. Please forgive me.”

Interalia blinked. She knew exactly what she’d have done normally, to anyone who pulled a stunt like this on her. But nobody, in her whole life, had ever apologised to her. She thought back. Not ever. Especially not like they meant it. She shook, then slowly, carefully, put her arms round Lenna, stood there for a few moments, too flustered even to pick Lenna’s pocket. Lenna looked into her eyes.

“Please, forgive me.”

Interalia breathed slowly, and found that she did. She opened her mouth to say it, but in the end just nodded. Lenna gave her a wavering smile, jerked her head at Trixie, turned round and walked out of the door, leaving Interalia to burn off the excess adrenalin. Finally, she took a deep breath.

“Well. That’s one for the books.”

She turned round, and walked up the stairs to the library.


Mareva opened the door, and looked at the bed. A warm happy glow surrounded her body as her eyes roved the warm blankets and the crisp, clean sheets. There was also a large male sitting on the bed, but for now, that was just a side benefit. She started to drop her clothes and pushed Stetson. To her surprise, he didn’t budge.

“Move over. Want to sleep.”

Stetson’s eyes seemed to return from a long distance, and settled on her. He got up, and let her get in. Then, he sat back down and stared again at the letter he had in his large hands. Mareva closed her eyes, pinched the bridge of her nose, then looked at her friend.

“Is something wrong?”

Stetson didn’t answer at once. Mareva sat up, put her hand on his big shoulder. Stetson’s gaze fell on her.

“Family matters,” he said.

Mareva nodded slowly. They had never talked about each other’s family. With all the destruction on Draenor, it was rarely a happy subject, so the Exiles tended to avoid it. Stetson crumpled up the letter in his hands, and threw it into the brazier that kept their room warm. He looked back at Mareva.

“It’s my brother.”

“Is he…”

“He was killed in one of the Scourge battles in Kalimdor.”

Mareva gently stroked Stetson’s arm. “I’m sorry.”

Stetson pointed at the brazier.

“That letter was from someone who’s seen him.”

“What, seen him die?”

Stetson shook his head.

“Seen him alive. If you can call it that.” He looked round at Mareva, and in all their time together, she had never seen such an expression on his face. “He is a Death Knight.”

Mareva said nothing for a few moments, trying to read off Stetson’s sad face what the situation was.

“Does he still serve the Lich king?”

“I don’t know. All I know he’s been seen in a place called Valiance Keep in Northrend.” Stetson turned his head towards Mareva. “I must go and find him. If he is a redeemed one, I need to help him. If not…” Stetson looked back at the fire. “Then I must kill his body, so that his spirit may rest.” Suddenly, Stetson jumped to his hooves. “I must leave.”

“Wait!” Mareva wrapped a sheet round her, and grabbed Stetson’s arm. “Bannog is also planning to leave for Northrend. One of his friends is in trouble there. It’ll be safer if you travel together. A few days won’t make any difference.”

“It may make all the difference,” said Stetson. “I can’t say.”

“If you go alone, you may not make it at all, and that’ll be worse than arriving late.” Mareva put her hands on his face. “I cannot survive in Northrend. You would have to spend too much time protecting me. Bannog can handle himself. Please do not go alone. I want you to return to me.”

Stetson looked deep into Mareva’s eyes, and his face was calm. He ran a finger through her long dark hair, and gently pulled her to him. “I also wish to return to you. More than anything in this world or others. But I must help my brother, either to die or be redeemed.”

“I know,” Mareva said. She blinked slowly, swaying on her legs.

Stetson lifted her off the ground, put her in bed and pulled the blanket over her.

“You are tired. You must sleep. I will return later.”

Mareva sank into the soft pillows. Her eyes fell to. Stetson looked at her face, then turned round and made to leave the room. Mareva stirred.

“Hunter S’Dezo’Houn?”

“Mmm?”

A thin line of pale blue light in Mareva’s eyes glowed at Stetson.

“If you leave before I wake up, do not bother to return.”

“I won’t. Sleep well, Engineer Mareva.”


Lirael sat down, and put one bowl of porridge in front of Ariciel, one in front of herself. Ariciel stirred. Too hot. She looked at Lirael.

“Alors mon amie,” she said, in Darnassian, “You are leaving when?”

“I leave tomorrow,” said Lirael. “But first, I must do something.” Her hand clasped Ariciel’s on the table. “Ma cherie, I’ve found love!”

“Oh Lirael, quelle chance! What luck! Who is the lucky man?”

Lirael cast a careful glance over her shoulder.

“He is sitting behind me. His name is Albert. Look carefully, he is the dark-haired man with the green shirt.”

Ariciel looked. “Oh, you choose well, cherie. A fine specimen. Strong, yet subtle.”

Lirael closed her eyes for a moment. “He is. And tonight, I will take him through agony to ecstasy.”

“Tu en es sur? Not all Humans appreciate the finer arts of love-making.”

“But he is so brave, Ariciel. No lesser gift will do!”

“Still, these Humans may not be familiar with the joys of pain. You may want to start with the clamps, and save the sharp knives for later, when he is properly introduced.”

“No time! I must have him before I leave. Selena told me where he sleeps. Tonight, I will visit him and ravish him. He will be mine for ever!”

“Madame!” Albert was standing behind Lirael, his face pale as a sheet. “I could not help overhearing you, and what you propose… It cannot be! Your… your… ways, they are too subtle and delicate for a rough paysan like myself.”

Lirael slowly turned round, and gave Albert a radiant smile. “A simple peasant? I think not! You would not have improved your knowledge of our language so quickly if you were!”

Albert’s mouth fell open. He looked from Lirael to Ariciel. Ariciel grinned. He looked back at Lirael.

“Touché, Madame.” He nodded his head. “Please forgive me my inappropriate behaviour of last night.”

“Dis rien,” said Lirael. “It is always nice to hear one’s language spoken in foreign countries. I am glad to hear you speak it better than I thought. I will put you on my table, if I may.” Her eyes glinted. “You may even eat yourself, if you wish.”

Albert reached for his breakfast, then sat down.

“I very much enjoyed your singing last night. Was that one of the ancient hymns to Elune? They say it was first performed for Tyrande Whisperwind herself.”

“It was. Though I’m not sure she’d approve of people singing hymns specially to her. She doesn’t like to be called High Priestess, even. It implies that there are also low priestesses.”

Albert ran his fingers through his thin beard. “Of course. I read about her in an old history book. I never realised that she would be alive today. Have you seen her? They say she was the most beautiful creature alive.”

Lirael laughed. “Well, they would, wouldn’t they? You can hardly say of a legendary character that she had a face like an old boot. Not that she has, mind, but I could walk through Darnassus for five minutes and point out ten girls prettier than she is.” Lirael stirred her porridge, looking in the distance. “But I could walk all of Kalimdor for a thousand years, and never find anyone with more power and compassion. She is the woman who once, on her own, held off an entire army of Undead using her magic alone.” Lirael smiled. “And still, a child can walk up to her with a hurt knee, and she’ll heal her and comfort her. It was what inspired me to become a Priestess.”

“Then perhaps, saying she was… is beautiful is a convenient abbreviation,” said Albert. “I would love to go to Darnassus sometime and listen to the language. It is quite melodious. But alas, my duties here…”

“Well, should you find the time, please come and visit me. When I’m not in faraway places, you can usually find me either in the temple or in Saelienne’s inn.”

Ariciel nodded. “With the new ferry service from Stormwind, it’s much easier. No need to slog it all the way to bloody Menethil anymore.”

Albert smiled at her. “I was born in Menethil, though I haven’t been there for many years.”

“Oh. I left Bannog there when I went to Teldrassil. It was always raining, and there were biting raptors and crocolisks. Food’s good, though, so it’s not all bad.”

“Ah, yes. The wetland crocolisks. Magnificent creatures, aren’t they? Their shape has not changed for a million years.”

Ariciel sneered. “One of them took a bite out of my leg. Bannog turned it into handholds for my quarterstaff.”

“Well, yes. They are best observed from a distance.”

“Oh yeah. The farther the better.”

The door opened and Stetson walked in, followed by Morgan. Ariciel waved, and Stetson joined them at the table. Morgan somehow managed to squeeze his huge feline body under the table and went to sleep on Stetson’s hoof.

“No breakfast?”

Stetson shook his head. “I already had mine a few hours ago. I am looking for Master Bannog.”

“Upstairs grumbling at the paperwork,” said Ariciel. “He’s no fun at all at the moment.”

“Maybe his upcoming journey to Northrend troubles him,” said Stetson. “It is not an endeavor to be taken lightly.”

Ariciel blinked. “He’s going away? He didn’t tell me! Where’s he think he’s going?”

Stetson raised his hand. “As I understand, he did not know himself until this morning. He is going to Northrend to aid a friend of his, and so am I. We might travel together a while.”

“Friend? Who?”

“Mareva did not say. But please do not disturb her. She is asleep.”

Ariciel got up, and looked at her friends through narrowing eyes.

“I’ll ask Bannog instead.”


Interalia’s hand briefly disappeared inside her shirt, to come out again holding her lucky silver coin. With a thoughtful expression on her face, she made the coin dance between her fingers. It was something to do while her mind was busy,

“A job? What job?”

“Well,” said Bannog, “After our defeat of the Blackrock, they will naturally never dare to come back to Stonewatch Tower.”

Interalia grinned, and leant forward. She briefly looked over her shoulder, then whispered.

“They’re renewing the Great Anvil in Ironforge.” She held up her silver coin in front of Bannog’s face. “For one-hundred and twenty gold, I can get you the old one.”

Bannog laughed. “Well yeah. I don’t believe it either. Why my Liege wishes to hand the tower back to the Orcs, I cannot say, but I’ll be damned if I just let them plan another raid on my castle. I need someone to tell us what’s going on there. Without them knowing about it. Which is where you come in. Think you can do it?”

“Hmm. How long for?”

“As long as you want. Mind you, it’ll be dangerous. If you get caught, there’s nothing we can do to keep them from hiding you somewhere and releasing you bit by bit. Your pay will reflect that.”

“Pay? How much?”

“Let’s say we make you a sergeant. Purely for administrative reasons. That’ll net you forty silver a week. Plus a place to sleep and a hot meal at least once a day.”

Interalia sat back in the chair that was several sizes too big for her. She nodded slowly.

“Big Lug, you do know what kind of girl I am, don’t you?”

“Up to now, you’ve made your living by obtaining other people’s valuables without their permission or knowledge. In short, you’re a thief.” Bannog put his elbows on the table. “But if it wasn’t for your help, then I would be dead and Ariciel would still be in some Lightless place in Searing Gorge having her arms and legs chopped off and re-attached by trainee healers. I’ll never be able to thank you enough for that.”

Interalia said nothing.

“Also,” said Bannog, “I’m counting on you to be smart enough not to shit where you eat. If you relieve a few Orcs of their pocket money, then well done, I say. So why start on the Caer people? Just don’t get caught.” An edge crept into his voice. “Either there, or here.”

“Right. So my job is to sneak into Stonewatch Tower and report to you on whatever is happening there.”

“Not me. Gerrig. I’ll be leaving for Northrend in a few days. So you’ll be working for my brother, mostly.”

“Hmm. No offence, but he can be a bit of an arrogant git at times.”

Bannog grinned. “You’ll get along fine. If it gets too much, liaise through Quartermaster. Oh, you’ll want to go and see him anyway. He’ll set you up with a place to sleep. So. Do we have a deal?”

Interalia stared. She dropped her silver coin, but caught it with a quick move of her hand before it hit the floor. All her instincts told her to say no. It’d all end in trouble. The temptation to get one over on these stupid lugs would be overwhelming. But then again. She’d have a home of sorts. That’d be nice. Find out how that feels. Suddenly, she grinned.

“Forty five silver?”

“Forty silver and you get to pick what you want from the armoury?”

“Deal.”

Bannog stood up. Interalia’s small four-fingered hand disappeared in Bannog’s.

“Welcome to the family,” said Bannog.

The door opened. Ariciel stepped in. The expression on her face balanced between concern and fireballs at noon. Interalia grinned at her.

“Hi Rici!” She pointed a thumb at Bannog “Big Lug gave me a job!”

“How nice. Could I have him to myself for a bit, dear? Thank you.” She turned to Bannog. “You’re leaving. Were you planning on telling me any time soon?”

Interalia had both the ability to make herself scarce in seconds, and the wisdom to know when. She disappeared into the shadows. Bannog put a hand on Ariciel’s shoulder.

“You were asleep. I found out this morning. Peterselie is in trouble. I have to help.”

Ariciel blinked. “What’s wrong?”

“Some bastard sent her to Northrend as a thank-you for helping us with the siege. She needs help, and I don’t see anyone else jumping in. Can’t leave her to her fate.”

Ariciel said nothing. She’d heard of Northrend, and it was not a happy place. It was said to be inhabited by violent giants. Wykull or something.

“Will you be safe there?”

“Not by any stretch of the imagination,” said Bannog. “It’s where Arthas Menethil, better known as the Lich King, has pitched his tent for now. He’s offering people jobs over there. Trolls. Undead. Half-giants.”

“I can face the wildlife here,” said Ariciel. “Not out there. Dammit. I thought I was finished training for a while. But if I am to survive out there, then I need to grow stronger. A lot stronger.”

Ariciel looked unhappily at Bannog. She wanted to ask him to stay here, but she knew already that he wouldn’t. One of his friends was in danger. If he’d just stay here, he would not be the Human she knew.

“It looks like both Mareva and I will have to do without our boyfriends for a while then.”

“Huh? Is Stetson leaving as well?”

“He is. Also to Northrend. Maybe you can go together.”

“Depends on why Stetson is going there.”

“Ask him. He didn’t seem to want to talk about it, though. It may be a private Draenei thing.”

“I will,” said Bannog. “I’m sorry. I was planning on a nice long time together. But…”

“Oh well. Back to writing hot fiery letters, then. At least you’re not in the Army now, so I don’t have to use code anymore.”

Bannog grinned. “It took even me a while to realise what you meant by ‘a relaxing run through the wetlands’. Made my day when I did.”

Ariciel wiggled her eyebrows. “None of those army censors’ business what we get up to.” Her face turned sad. “I’ll miss you.”

“And I you. Oh well. I can’t leave for at least another couple of days. I need to set up some kind of intelligence network. That’s what our Gnome girl is going to do.”

“Hm. Better make good use of the time we have then.”

“Haven’t we been there before?”


Bannog was sitting at a table in one of the small villages of Redridge ruined by the wars. The place still had a roof, at least, though you wouldn’t want to go upstairs. Smitty was standing behind him, a watchful look in his dark eyes. Bannog’s jaw set. History repeating itself, only one generation down. There was a whistle from outside and the door opened. An Orc came in. Without uttering a word, he looked round the room, eyes briefly settling on Bannog, then on Smitty. Apparently satisfied, he turned round and waved in his master.

The Orc leader, to Bannog, looked like any other one of the brutes he’d encountered in the conflict. Good quality armour. Scimitar. A bit shorter and broader of build than Bannog was himself. Bannog pointed his hand at the bench opposite, and the Orc sat down.

“Welcome. I am Bannog of Caer Bannog.”

“I am Gath’Ilzogg, War-lord of the Blackrock clan.”

Bannog raised his head a tiny amount. “Are all war-lords called Gath’Ilzogg?”

The Orc scowled. “The one you killed was called Mizar Gath’ilzogg. I am Jheren Gath’ilzogg. He was my brother.”

Time was when this would have moved Bannog. As it was, sympathy was at a low. He acknowledged the Orc’s statement with a brief nod.

“You have returned to Stonewatch Tower. What is it that you wish?”

“What I wish, Human, is to rip off your head and piss down your neck. My brother may have been an idiot, but he is still my brother. But my orders are to re-take the Tower, no matter what the cost. You do not feature in my orders.”

In one swift move, Bannog drew his dagger and drove it into the table between Gath’ilzogg’s hands, where it stood, trembling. Bannog glared at the Orc.

“This dagger belonged to my father, until the day that your imbecile of a brother decided to have under-chief Gharash and his lieutenant murder him. This is the dagger I pushed into his skull the day we cleared the tower of every last one of you misbegotten wretches. Now if you want a piece of me, then feel free to try and we’ll repeat this conversation with whoever they send to replace you.”

Gath’ilzogg glowered at Bannog. “My wishes are irrelevant. Only my orders matter. They are to take Stonewatch tower, which we have now done, having found it unoccupied. I assume you had a reason to leave it.”

“Orders from the King. My wishes, like yours, are irrelevant. I have something for you.” Bannog looked over his shoulder at Smitty, who came forward and handed Bannog a piece of black cloth. Bannog unrolled it on the table.

“This is the crest of my house. Our soldiers wear it on their tabards. Our citizens wear a smaller version on their clothes. If you attack, disturb or even look at one of these soldiers, but especially any of those citizens, then we will repeat the exercise you have witnessed before, only this time we will leave no stone upon the other, no Blackrock alive in Redridge.”

“Do you think we have only rank recruits in the Tower this time?” Gath’ilzogg pulled out the dagger and tossed it at Bannog. “You would pay a high price in blood. My brother may have been delusional, but I am not. You will not fare as well against trained warriors.”

Bannog scowled. “If so, we would both lose, and the Lich King would be the only winner. Shall we try to avoid that? I offer you the same accord that my father offered chief Gharash. You don’t bother us. We don’t bother you. Everybody lives to fight the Scourge. Do you accept?”

Gath’ilzogg looked into Bannog’s eyes. Moments passed. Then, he nodded.

“I accept. My warriors will not attack any of yours. Your warriors will not attack any of ours. You will keep your soldiers and spies away from the Tower. We will not go near your castle. Let it be so.”

Gath’ilzogg held his hand over the table. Bannog took it. Gath’ilzogg stood up, turned round and left. Bannog sat back and rubbed his head.

“Did you get a good look at him?”

Interalia appeared out of nowhere. “He looks a nasty piece of work. Did you just promise not to send me out there?”

Bannog smiled grimly. “Aye. Don’t get caught.”

“Hm. Understood. See you tomorrow morning.”


“Lady Ariciel?” Griggin stepped up from behind his cart. “Before I leave, I would like to thank you again for saving Lenna’s life. If there is anything I can do for you, you have but to ask.”

Ariciel smiled. Honestly, she couldn’t think of anything the little Gnome could do for her, unless… Ah.

“There is something, but I’ll have to ask the master of the castle. Could you wait a minute?”

“Certainly.”

“A what?” Gerrig stared at the Elf, his mouth open.

“Bathroom,” said Ariciel. “Well, shower room really. Mr. Steambender is an expert in things like that. They have them in Ironforge. Ask Bannog. Those things are wonderful!”

“In my father’s bedroom? Are you…”

“Well, you’re not going to sleep there, are you? And turning it into a spare bedroom is probably not what you want either. So why not?”

Marcia frowned. “What’s a shower room?”

“You stand in the room, you turn the tap and hot water flows over you. I tried one in the inn in Ironforge. You wouldn’t believe how good it felt. Like standing under a waterfall, but lovely and warm.”

“Hmm,” said Marcia, eyeing her husband.

Griggin stuck his pencil back behind his ear and showed his sketch to Nix.

“Right. If we want to put the boiler in one of the cellars, we’re going to have to drill. If we do that here, and here…” Griggin tapped the drawing with his finger, “Then we can keep most of the pipes out of sight behind the stairs. We’ll also need to re-concrete the floor, but Mr. Stonehand can do that for us. Drainage goes down there… and into the moat below the waterline. Nice and discreet. We’ll put in an Optimal Prime five-thousand, I think. They’re nice and quiet, especially at the level of usage expected.”

Nix frowned.

“Don’t you mean five-hundred, Dad? A five-thousand will flood the entire room in ten seconds, and wash out all the users. Let’s not have a repeat of the Relaxing Steam Bath fiasco.”

Griggin smiled at his son. “I’m aware of that, but a five-hundred won’t power the soldiers’ bathing facilities, kitchen warm water supply, coffee making facilities, central heating, and let’s not forget the tunnel defender.”

“But they haven’t asked for any of those things!”

Griggin grinned broadly.

“Well, I haven’t told them they need them yet.”

Trixie looked at her feet. “Interalia…”

“Yes?”

“I’m sorry for scaring you like that.”

They were standing next to the cart. The striders were hitched, all was ready. Nix was leaning against the side of the cart, trying not to get involved.

“And rightly so.”

Trixie looked up. “I mean I was right to get even with you what with Nix and all, but I went over the top.”

“Yes,” said Interalia.

Trixie looked up. “You’re going to drag this out for as long as you can, aren’t you?”

“Yes. Yes, I am.”

“Well… You um didn’t, but even if you did, it wouldn’t be any of my business. I suppose you can do what you want with my brother.”

“Wait,” said Nix. “What?”

Interalia’s eyes glinted at Trixie. She slowly turned round to Nix.

“Oh thanks, Trixie,” she said. Before Nix could move, she grabbed his jacket, pulled him closer and kissed him. Nix stood, stiff as a board, eyes wide open.

“Wstfgl,” he said. Trixie nearly fell over laughing.

Interalia looked at Nix’ face. If she wanted, she could pick all of his pockets, then nick his jacket.

“You’re a lousy kisser,” said Interalia. “You need more practice.”

“Uh ya sorry,” said Nix, slowly backing away.

Trixie stopped laughing, saw Nix’ face, and started again. She walked round the cart and got in the driving seat, holding her stomach. Interalia watched Nix pull himself together.

“You’ll be back here, then?” Interalia grinned. “I may be able to convince Sir Gerrig that what they really need here is some enchanted steel handcuffs. Or failing that, Lady Marcia.”

“No need,” said Nix. “We’re putting in a shower room. I’ll be back. You’re staying here then?”

“Yeah. Got to help out keeping an eye on the greens. Only Rici can do real stealth here. The lugs would just walk into things.”

“Amazing how they still keep their buildings up, considering,” said Nix. “Oh well. They have the Gnomes to help them with the difficult bits. Like the copper piping. Go us! Anyway, as soon as we source the materials, I’ll be back. Want me to look you up?”

“I’d like that. One thing though. If you have the gall to call me your girlfriend, I’ll hurt you.”

“The Light forbid.”


Second Lieutenant Joseph Smith didn’t particularly like to be summoned for meetings with the Boss. Especially not with two bosses. It generally meant trouble, or more work, or both. He knocked on the door, was let in, and put in a chair. He plied his face in an expression of attentive politeness.

“Good morning, Sir Gerrig.”

“Good morning, Lieutenant. Second Lieutenant, I should say. How are you this morning?”

Oh great. The Man was showing an interest in his well-being. This was going to be good.

“Very well, Sir, thank you.”

“Good good. Well, Lieutenant, I have some orders for you.”

Smitty sat to attention. Here it comes…

“I am putting you in charge of the daily management of the farm to the south-east. It used to be mine, but with recent events, my presence here is required.”

Oh damn. Did he look like a farmer? What was he going to do, get behind the plow?

“Sir, I must remind you that farming is not my expertise. Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to assign this task to one more experienced in that, um, field?”

Bannog grinned. “Relax Smitty, We’re not expecting you to get in among the turnips. The foremen can do the actual farming. Your main job will be the new barracks. You’ll oversee its construction, and then run it.”

Whoa! Smitty took a breath. This was… unexpected. It was a good job. Oh dear. What’s the catch? There must be a catch somewhere. They never just give you a nice job, without a good reason. And then, he saw it. They were sending him away from the castle. Away from…

“Can I ask a question, Sir?”

“Certainly,” said Gerrig.

“Does this have anything to do with… Lady Selena?”

Bannog glanced at his brother’s face, grinning. He turned to Smitty.

“Aye, Lieutenant. We must, at all cost, keep you away from our sister. Don’t worry about her. We’ll lock her in her room till she forgets about you.”

Smitty looked from Gerrig to Bannog and back again, not entirely convinced. Gerrig laid his hand on the table.

“Look, Lieutenant. We have eyes in our heads, and we can see that our sister is, well, interested in you. You must be aware of that, or you wouldn’t have brought it up. But this job has nothing to do with it. You served us very well in the recent hostilities, and that’s why we’re giving you a job in line with your abilities.”

Yeah right. There was a military term for such a statement, but not one to be used in front of one’s commanding officers. How had they got it into their heads that he was after their sister?

“Sir, I assure you, I have no intention of…”

“Good.” Gerrig picked up a stack of parchments and handed them to Smitty. “These are the plans to the new barracks. You’ll need to keep a sharp eye on the workmen, or before you know it, they’ll turn it into a town hall. Or a sawmill. You’ll leave at your earliest convenience. Any questions?”

Smitty blinked. He could think of several, but none of these were likely to lead to joy.

“No, Sir.”

“Excellent. If you need anything, send word to the castle. Come and speak with me before you leave.”

“Aye, Sir.”

Smitty walked down the stairs, pack of parchment in hand. Just what were they thinking? Sure, Lady Selena was attractive enough, in a fresh-faced, healthy, cheerful kind of way, but he could probably find several girls in Lakeshire who were just as pretty, and most importantly, didn’t come with a sodding big castle attached, not to mention two sodding big brothers. He looked at the documents in his hands. My goodness, they were ambitious. Sleeping space for at least forty soldiers, with facilities. He couldn’t help thinking that when he just started, he’d have been quite happy to live in a place like that, rather than the tents outside…

“Hey!”

Smitty stopped short, and found he’d almost walked into Lady Selena. She grinned at him. He gave her his politely friendly smile, normally used on dignitaries’ wives.

“Pardon me, Lady,” said Smitty.

Selena smirked. “No harm done, Sir. I heard you were leaving for Gerrig’s place. Are you going to clean up my brother’s mess for him?”

“Oh, I’d hardly call it that, Lady,” said Smitty. “I’ve been put in charge of building the new barracks at Sir Gerrig’s farm.”

“You have? Well, they could hardly have picked a better man for the job. Your father’s a blacksmith, and didn’t your mother come from a family of stonemasons?”

Smitty was taken aback. How on Azeroth did she know that? And furthermore, why would she care? He could think of an answer, but not one he liked particularly.

“I never worked in any of those professions, Lady. My older brothers followed in my father’s footsteps, which left me to pursue a military career.” A military career that, after a promising start, now looked like it was going rapidly downhill.

“Oh you have older brothers? Aren’t they just a treasure? I’d trade you mine, but I’m not sure you’d fall for it.”

Lady, thought Smitty, I already have your brothers. They are suspecting me of ungentlemanly intentions towards yourself. I know what happened to the last poor sap who tried.

“I already know your brothers, Lady. You don’t know mine, and I’m not sure that you’d prefer them to your own.”

“Ha. Mine told me that you were at death’s door when you came back from the fights.” Blue eyes shone at Smitty. “I was very glad you weren’t.”

Smitty looked at the bosses’ sister. She was something to look at, certainly. Blonde hair, very blue eyes. Dressed in loose-fitting green and brown hunter’s garb that no peasant hunter girl would ever be able to afford. Someone had taken the kind of girl Smitty liked, and spent a lot of money on her to improve her. Money best spent elsewhere, as far as he was concerned.

“As am I, Lady,” said Smitty.

“I’ll be sad to see you go.”

Oh my. What had he done to deserve this? Easy. Dance with her all night at the celebration, that’s what. Not that that had been any kind of punishment, far from it, but he could hardly have refused the lady of the castle. Oh well. Perhaps Sir Gerrig had been right to send him away for a while.

“Cannot argue against orders, Lady. Speaking of which, I’d better go and prepare myself. I have much to do.”

“Mustn’t keep you then,” said Selena. She smiled at him, and walked towards the stairs. Smitty scratched his hair, watching her go. She looked over her shoulder once, then disappeared upstairs. Yeah. A change of scenery would probably do him good.


Quartermaster looked up from his work, to see the Gnome rogue girl standing in front of him.

“Good morning Miss Interalia, How can I help you?”

Interalia gave Quartermaster her charming smile.

“I have a request. You know I’ve slept in the barracks these last few nights?”

“Of course,” said Quartermaster. “I told Carl to put you there. Is something wrong?”

“No no, nothing. Only I’ll be dealing with confidential documents and things, so I probably need to keep that out of sight.”

Interalia had been sleeping in the barracks. She’d not enjoyed it much. The bed was large enough, true, but it was large enough for her and the entire Steambender family. Also, there were soldiers. Soldiers with the wonderfully quaint sense of humour that soldiers all over the world have. The young lad who’d tried to put her hand in a bowl of water to make her wet her bed, would probably recover. Eventually. Sadly, the others had not taken this as a cautionary learning experience, but rather as a challenge. Pointing out that she had forgotten more tricks than they had ever known, had not helped. Lack of sleep was making her irritable and less inclined to play nice. Time to win a little privacy.

“Now I’ve spotted in the corridor over there a store cupboard that looks just large enough for a Gnome bedroom, but it’s locked. Could I have a look at it, please?”

Quartermaster scratched his head. “Don’t know. What’s in it?”

“Oh, just some shelves and a few trunks of stuff. Old beer bottles. Lots of dust, but I can get rid of that no problem.” Interalia smiled disarmingly at Quartermaster.

Quartermaster Declan looked into Interalia’s eyes, then chuckled. He stepped over to the other wall, and grabbed a key from one of the spikes.

“Why don’t we try this for a change?”

“A key? That’s cheating!”

Quartermaster grinned. “Think of it as a highly specialised, high-speed lock-pick.”

They walked to the store cupboard. Quartermaster opened the door.

Interalia shook her head. “See? That’s just like work for a lock. Locks want to be gently caressed and seduced into giving up their secrets. You have to treat them as gentle as you would your lover.”

Quartermaster laughed. “Would you and your door like to be alone for a while? Now let’s see. What have we here?”

The shelves contained mostly empty boxes, odds and ends and empty bottles. There was a crate of beer with six bottles still unopened, thick with dust. Quartermaster took out one of the bottles and looked at the label.

“Ah. Now there are some beers that mature slowly, gaining depth of flavour as years go by, so that you hardly dare open the bottle for fear of spoiling what would be an even better experience the next year.”

He put the bottle back in the crate.

“But this, sadly, is not one of those beers. Into the moat with it, I say.”

“More of a cider girl, myself.”

“I can give you beers that’ll turn you,” said Quartermaster.

“Oh, the times I’ve heard that,” said Interalia.

They opened a few trunks, but they didn’t contain anything remotely valuable. Kitchen uniforms in fashion when Old Bannog’s father held sway. Blunt carving knives. Incomplete sets of crockery. In a word, junk. Quartermaster had seen enough.

“Well, if you help me get rid of this stuff, you can have the commodious bedroom for yourself.” He looked at Interalia. “Soldiers giving you a hard time?”

“Oh, the feeling is mutual,” said Interalia. “Best not to let it develop into full warfare.”

“Probably best. I’m sorry for the hassle. I’d have a word, but what good would that do?”

“Nothing. Boys will be boys. Until you cut their goolies off. They say dogs get much more affectionate afterwards.”

“Not if they see you do it, they don’t.”

They emptied the place of the debris of years, then chopped up a straw mattress for her use, which they put on the bottom shelf. The top shelf, they took down and turned into a writing desk. A few trunks were left in, for Interalia’s secret documents. She made a mental note to ask Nix for a few better locks. She grinned. For free, of course. At least not for money. Quartermaster gave her a good supply of candles and a Human footstool to sit on. As a final touch, she grabbed a bit of wood, and carved a sign to put on the door:
 

BEWARE OF
GUARD GNOME.
DO NOT ENTER.

She chuckled as she stuck it on the door with a few nails. Then she lay back on her bed, hands behind her head. Much better. She surveyed her small kingdom. She’d never really had a base of operations before. She sighed, wondering how long it would last before she messed it up in some way or other. She closed her eyes and slept.


Lirael was standing in the middle of the courtyard, pack on her shoulder. Several people had come to see her off. Ariciel stood by and fussed.

“Got everything?”

“Think so. All my clothes, bottles of claret, thanks Quartermaster. Notes for Bearwalker. Messages for the armour merchants. Did I miss anything?”

“Un moment, Madame, s’il vous plait.” Albert came rushing up, and handed Lirael a small leatherbound book. “I would like you to have this.”

Lirael leafed through the book, and smiled. “Those are Darnassian love poems! I don’t know at least half of them.” She looked up at Albert. “Are you sure you want to give this away?”

“I know them by heart, Madame. Please be so good as to enjoy them.”

“I know I will. Thank you, Albert.”

“Enchanté, Madame.”

Lirael smiled, looked round.

“Well, I’m off then.”

She mounted her cat, and watched Ariciel do the same. Together, they rode out of the main gate, to Lakeshire. They rode up to Ariena Snowfeather, the Human flightmaster in Lakeshire. Lirael put her hands on Ariciel’s shoulders, and looked deep into her eyes.

“Are you sure you’ll be alright?”

“Positive. Thank you for everything.” Ariciel pulled Lirael to her, eyes closed. “Tell Trainer Jandria that I am very satisfied, and will have no other priestess but you.”

“Try not to go on any murderous rampages while I’m gone. That’ll cost me points.”

“I’ll try not to.”

The girls simply looked at each other for a few moments. Then, Lirael spoke a few words to the flight master, and with a final wave, she was gone.

Lirael’s cat trotted up to Saelienne’s in Darnassus. Saelienne was busy helping customers spend their money. Lirael waved, and went to see if she had any mail. She grinned. Hey! one from Aletta.
 

Lirael my dear,

 
I’m very sorry to bother you with this, but I’ve had boyfriend
trouble of the worst description. I cannot possibly write it
down, or I will tear this parchment to shreds in anger. We
simply must meet, perhaps in Dolanaar by the moonwell, and
discuss it in person. In order that you derive some advantage
from this meeting other than hearing my melodious voice ramble
on about males in general and this one in particular, I
suggest, after we tear this sad excuse for an Elf to tiny
shreds, that we do the following:

Lirael read on. Her cheeks turned purple. Oh my… She turned the page over. There was more. Oh well… The work of a priestess was never done. A dirty job, but someone and all that. She walked into the inn.

“Saelienne? Do you have some honey by any chance? Runny for preference.”


The deck vibrated under Bannog’s feet as the steamer’s engine engaged. The large wheel at the back turned the sea to foam as they accelerated to Valiance Keep in Northrend. He stared at the two small figures on the quay, one blue, one pale white. A little smile was on his face. As Stormwind harbour disappeared from view, he waved one more time, and sighed.

“Mr. Stetson, here we are, both with the most glorious girlfriends imaginable, and still, we sail for a cold inhospitable place where practically everything and everyone wants to kill us. Are we mad, or what?”

Stetson turned round to Bannog.

“They are magnificent creatures. If we do not go, then the things that wish to kill us will come here eventually, and put them in danger. They are what we fight for.”

“True words, my friend.” Bannog breathed in the fresh salty sea air. “Have you heard any news of your brother?”

Stetson shook his head. “No. He was last seen in a place called Valiance Keep. I suppose I will have to go there and pick up the trail from there.”

“Maybe he doesn’t want to be found.”

“Many things that I track do not wish to be found. And yet, Morgan and I eat well.”

“Hm. Well, I have had word from Korenwolf. He says he will meet me in Valgarde, They have not been very forthcoming with information.”

“Perhaps they, too, do not wish to be found.”

“Perhaps.”

They left the aft railing and walked to the bow section of the ship. There was nothing but sea on the horizon, so they waited for anything more interesting to appear.

“We will see them again, Mr. Bannog.”

“I’ll make sure we do, Mr. Stetson.”


Copyright: © 2008,2009,2010 Menno Willemse. All rights reserved.

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